A citizens group from northeastern Pennsylvania is trying to enlist President Donald Trump in its fight against a fee that can hit farmers hard.
Taxpayer POWER is soliciting signatures for a petition to kill the Wyoming Valley stormwater fee.
The pitch is being made through the White House’s online petition portal. If the document gets 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the Trump administration is required to respond.
Mike Stash, a Luzerne County landscaper and president of Taxpayer POWER, is eager for Trump to weigh in.
The president needs to keep Pennsylvanians happy, Stash reasoned, because the state is important to his re-election bid this year.
“We feel that the time is right to make this an issue,” Stash said.
Called a rain tax by opponents, a stormwater fee is charged based on a property’s amount of hard surfaces that don’t absorb rain.
The municipal fee is typically charged on all parcels, including tax-exempt ones, and the money is used to reduce flooding and nutrient runoff from storms.
Because of their many barns and outbuildings, farms may pay $1,000 a year or more in stormwater fees.
Though stormwater fees have been around since the 1970s, they have only recently gained traction in Pennsylvania, thanks to a state law that explicitly allowed them and growing pressure on local governments to contribute to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Stormwater fees are often unpopular when they are introduced, and the fee introduced last year by 32 municipalities around Wilkes-Barre has been no exception.
Stash said his group doesn’t want pollution, but believes the fee has been applied unfairly and will harm the local economy.
“In Luzerne County we’re not going to lay down and take it at this point,” he said.
The petition has ambitious goals.
As part of ending the local stormwater fee, the petition asks for the repeal of a Barack Obama executive order that underpins the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and for the scrapping of the federal MS4 program that requires local governments to manage stormwater.
The Luzerne crew faces a steep climb. At 3 p.m. Tuesday, the petition had 655 signatures, meaning it still needed to get more than 99,000 participants by March 9.
Taxpayer POWER — which stands for People Overwhelmed With Excessive Regulations — is also working with the county council and local legislators to fight the stormwater fee.
Critics of the fee are being heard in Harrisburg.
Sen. Lisa Baker, who represents part of Luzerne County, has introduced a bill that would establish a maximum rate a farm would pay, provided the parcel has no more than 30% impervious surfaces.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau worked with Baker on the bill.
Rep. David Zimmerman, from farm-rich Lancaster County, is going even further, preparing a bill that would actually make farmers exempt from stormwater fees.
A link to the Luzerne stormwater petition is available on the group’s website, taxpayerpower.com